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Why Starring on ‘Scandal’ Is Like Finding a Family — A Very, Very Political Family

Why Starring on 'Scandal' Is Like Finding a Family -- A Very, Very Political Family

Olivia Pope and Associates, four seasons into their Thursday
night domination, finally graced the PaleyFest LA stage Sunday evening. “Jimmy
Kimmel Live’s” eponymous host moderated the panel for his ABC brethren, largely
focusing on a handicapped Kerry Washington (suffering from laryngitis).

Curiously absent from the proceedings (considering she seems
to be approaching cultural omnipresence) was creator and patron saint of Thursday
night drama Shonda Rhimes. It’s a testament to Rimes’ current cache, though,
that not only was she often the focus of the hour-long panel, but the attention
had an almost reverential tone.

At one point, Kimmel asked the cast if anyone ever disagreed
with their fearless leader, and they all quickly came to the same conclusion.

“She’s just the best at her job, so why question her? Just
leave it in her hands,” Bellamy Young said.

Washington learned this lesson way back in the first season,
though. After receiving emails from Rhimes asking random, cryptic questions
like “Are you ok running barefoot?” or “Do you have any negative history with
so-and-so?,” Washington answered with a question of her own.

“I never got a response. So, I don’t do follow-up questions
[laughs],” Washington said.

In Rhimes’ absence, the burden of the most serious questions—of
which there were few—often fell to the show’s biggest star, Washington. And taking
a cue from her character in one particularly pointed exchange, Washington sharply
countered a rambunctious audience response to a bold question about Columbus
Short’s departure from the show. 

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During the audience question portion of the panel, one man had
fun with the controversy surrounding Short, asking: “How does a cast handle true
life scandal? As in when a cast member gets fired for being very bad in real
life.” The audience ate it up and Kimmel even remarked: “That’s a good question
that no one is going to answer.”

However, Washington did answer, and rather seriously: “I don’t
celebrate the laughter in response to that.” She defended her former cast-mate,
saying that “everyone who is in this family is in this family, whether you’re
working on the show or not.”

Additional highlights are below, including Washington’s
unsurprisingly eloquent thoughts on the most recent Ferguson-inspired episode
and an amazing video of Katie Lowes’ original reaction to getting cast as Quinn
Perkins. (But the whole panel is worth a look, if only to see Goldwyn’s face
when Kimmel tells him he can “put it in any hole he wants.” Do with that what
you will.)

“The Lawn
Chair” Was Olivia’s “Coming of Age”

After last week’s powerful episode “The Lawn Chair,” which
was replayed for the audience preceding the panel, Washington was specifically
asked about the real-life inspired events. A woman from the audience asked: “This
show hasn’t really been about you being a black woman, you’re just a woman who
happens to be black… How was this last episode for you? It’s just about as
black as I’ve ever seen you on the show.”

The question got laughs, but Washington gave a typically thoughtful
response.

“It felt like a little bit of a coming-of-age for Olivia, because I think it was really important to us that the show be about a woman
who’s black, but who’s [also] a lot of things. So we never trafficked in the
race stuff that much. There have been other subtle moments where we’ve
addressed it indirectly. But it did feel like we had come to a point where the
writers were comfortable now embracing fully this part of Olivia’s identity,”
Washington said.

The episode as a whole seemed to be a very personal
experience for both Washington and Rhimes. Again speaking as a quasi-representative
for the creator, Washington elaborated on the specific motivations behind the
story choices.

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“I was very moved that Shonda had a lot of feelings about
what’s been going on. And her form of protest, her form of expression, her way
to contribute is to write. So for all of us to be able to tell this story was
such an honor. It was nice, a real of coming-of-age, a real coming-of-race for
Olivia. But I think the overriding subject of the episode was so much more
important. It eclipses any one person’s identity because it was about lives
mattering regardless of who you’re born as,” Washington said.

Shonda Rhimes Doesn’t
Write Types – She Collects Souls

In honor of International Women’s Day, Young, who plays ambitious
First Lady Mellie, celebrated the show’s insistence on allowing female
characters to “say complicated human things” rather than be sidelined as just
another role model.

“I guess I never would have thought about being a role
model, not being a role model. I’m
just happy to be a complicated human [who] happens to be a woman,” Young said.

Rhimes came up once again in this instance as well. Rather
than writing specific, narrowing descriptions of the characters in the script,
Young feels like Rhimes “picks souls.”

“Even when we sit through table reads and we don’t know who
the guest star is going to be, there’s never any sort of, like “lady in her
40s” or whatever because… I feel like she’s collected souls and is telling
stories with them,” Young said.

Olivia’s Auction Was
“The Epitome of Black Lives Matter”

[Spoilers follow
through Season 4.]
Washington voluntarily addressed a recent plotline on
the show — in a universe known for gonzo plotting, the recent series of events
that led to President Grant declaring war for the return of Olivia was
particularly ambitious.

But Washington framed the development as a “poignant”
illustration of the “Bring Back Our Girls” and “Black Lives Matter” movements.

“At a time in this world [when] we were begging the media to
pay attention to hundreds of black girls that were missing overseas, the fact
that Shonda wrote the ultimate Bring Back Our Girls, it became the epitome of
Black Lives Matter. Rather than ignore [the] hundreds of black women missing,
she made a president go to war for this one person. It just seemed like a very
powerful idea,” Washington said.

But it’s “Scandal,” which means everything can be elevated
via some powerful imagery.

“And of course, because she’s Shonda, she put that black
woman on an auction block. Everything’s complicated,” Washington said. “But I
just thought it was a really wonderful, poignant choice of hers.” [End of spoilers.]

Katie Lowes Found Out
She Got the Job On Camera

In one of the sweeter moments of the evening, Kimmel set up
a clip describing the casting process of Katie Lowes, who plays the most recent
addition to OPA, Quinn Perkins. In the clip, Rhimes discusses her immediate
attraction to Lowes for the role. After running the choice by the network and
receiving a surprising yes, Rhimes and casting director Linda Lowy brought in
Lowes under the guise of needing a test deal signed. Once there, and in front
of their hidden camera, Rhimes broke the news.

“We could have told her over the phone but we brought her
in… and I thought, this could either go really well or really badly,” Rhimes
said in the pre-recorded clip. “It’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. That
reaction is super genuine and that personality you see on the audition tape is
how Katie Lowes is almost every day.”

Rhimes’ fake-out, years later, still brings the emotions of
the moment rushing back to Lowes.

“There are no words… It still makes me get sick, like
nervous in my stomach. My whole life changed. I have all these people in my
life now. I’m going to cry but I’m not. It was a very, very magical day and
moment that now we all get to watch,” Lowes said.

Watch the full panel (including the casting reveal, which
occurs at 41:30) below.

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